Bhutan's PM proposes sacking of foreign minister over corruption charge

Bhutan's PM proposes sacking of foreign minister over corruption charge
Bhutan foreign minister Rinzin Dorje
PHOTO: Kuensel/Asia News Network

Bhutan's Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay has proposed a recommendation to sack his foreign minister, Rinzin Dorje.

Rinzin Dorje who is on an "authorised leave" since January is defending a corruption charge in the court. The minister was exonerated by a district court for a charge that dates back to his tenure as the governor of Haa district, a small district bordering Autonomous region of Tibet. He was charged for embezzlement of public property and misuse of functions.

But the country anti-graft commission appealed to the High Court prolonging his "authorised leave".

The recommendation was submitted to King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, which also includes transferring the home minister Damcho Dorji as the foreign minister and the Bong-Chapcha member of parliament as the new home minister.

According to the country's Constitution the sacking and new appointment is subject to His Majesty The King's approval. Article 17, section 3 states that His Majesty shall appoint ministers from among the members of the National Assembly, on the recommendation of the prime minister, or shall remove a minister on the advice of the prime minister.

Incumbent foreign minister Rinzin Dorje said he respect's the prime minister's decision, refusing to comment further. Lyonpo Rinzin Dorje was on authorised absence since January 23 this year.

While the Cabinet ministers were not available for comments, prime minister's press secretary Tshering Wangmo said the recommendation to remove the incumbent foreign minister from the Cabinet has been submitted to His Majesty The King.

"Lyonchoen had already discussed the issue with the foreign minister," she said.

The decision was reached despite lyonpo Rinzin Dorje's acquittal by the Haa disctrict court and an appeal against the verdict to the High Court. The High Court is yet to start it's hearing on the appeal case.

Some of the Parliament members from the ruling party said the decision came as a surprise and that they were not consulted.

However, People's Democratic Party spokesperson Ritu Raj Chhetri said that the issue was discussed in the executive committee that is chaired by the prime minister.

"The executive is the highest decision making body in line with our party charter," he said, adding that the parliament members were briefed by lyonchoen on the decision yesterday.

On the late decision despite the minister being acquitted, Ritu Raj Chhetri said that they had to take "national interest over individual interest."

Ritu Raj Chhetri said that the precedence in other countries is such that a parliamentarian or a cabinet minister takes moral responsibility when involved in a corruption case. "In our case, it didn't happen the way it should have happened, as no person is guilty unless proven," the Tashichoeling representative said.

"Even in the past government's tenure, the foreign ministry has been without a minister for about three years," he said. "Foreign ministry is a crucial ministry and to not have a minister for a longer period, it's not justified."

Ritu Raj Chhetri also said that it was difficult for lyonchoen to cope up with foreign affairs as he was already bogged down with other duties. Lyonchen took charge of the foreign ministry since January 23 after the foreign minister was granted authorised absence.

With the case already in High Court, Ritu Raj Chhetri said it could take about two to three months for the High Court to pass its verdict and if any of the parties appeal further, it could take another three months or so. "This means that in a year almost 20 per cent of our time is wasted which is a lot of time," he said.

Besides, he said the party's stand is to not tolerate corruption. There had also been a lot of feedback and general perceptions from people on the case. "As a party, we don't want to malign ourselves with corruption," he said. "This is why we had to come hard on the minister although we are fully aware that he is innocent."

Meanwhile, the government's decision is seen as a political move for some while others see it as a good decision.

Some Parliamentarians said that the decision would have a lasting impact on the future governments, as the precedence has been set. Others said that the decision was timely as it was not fair for the people and country to have a foreign minister to be on authorised absence for an indefinite period.

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